The Winter Assault

Part 18

by The Winter Assault Writers

Cover | Contents | Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 |
13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | Epilogue

December 26, 5:30am

“Kill him!” the mage shrieked, his hand outstretched as he pointed a slender stick toward his captured foe, “I cannot hold him!”

Murikeer snarled at the strange magic the man had cast upon him, cutting him off entirely from Metamor’s magic flow, and glared angrily at the half dozen mercenaries attending the mage. He had come upon them unawares and managed to burn two of the soldiers down before the enemy mage erected a hasty shield. He still had his inner reserves, those already drawn from the cold stones of the Keep, but he could not press them beyond the mage’s shield. Most of his attention was on the barring spell as he tried to break its simple but highly effective ensorcelment. Four of the mercenaries advanced upon him with swords, gleaming polished steel well whetted to keen, deadly sharpness. The two remaining moved to the mage’s side and unlimbered the crossbows they carried upon their backs.

“Quickly!” the mage barked, straining as Muri assaulted his magic from within. The young mage had already found its basic weave and yanked savagely at it with his own magical powers, warping and twisting it but unable to break it easily. It would break, he could feel it weaken even as he poured his magical strength into rending it. “Don’t bandy about, stick the misbegotten beast!”

“Tell me where Thorne is, mage, and I will kill you swiftly.” Murikeer snarled as he felt the binding spell wavering. He could see the tendril of it extending from the wand giving him a very simple thread along which to attack the focus itself. “Otherwise, you will die slowly and tell me all.”

A mercenary leaped in and thrust his sword at Murikeer but the skunk twisted with the flexibility of his curse gifted species and the sword merely graced bruisingly across his ribs. He grunted and snarled, lashing out with one hand to rake at the man’s face with claws capable of shaping stone. With a curse the man jerked his head back while the other three came in a concerted group from three sides. Dancing back Murikeer spun about and, bending forward, raised his tail and loosed a blinding spray of his natural musk. One of the swords scored across the crest of his tail but the others missed and all four soldiers retreated with cries of horror. They clawed at their faces, managing not to drop their swords by sheer military discipline, and choked upon the overwhelming fetor of the skunk’s musk. Even the mage and the crossbowmen gagged and fell back allowing Murikeer a last moment to finally shred the wavering spell severing him from the Keep’s power. It collapsed and he sent a surge of raw manna along the spell strand from the wand. The wood let out a single tortured squeal and shattered in the mage’s hand.

With a curse the mage dropped the wand and jerked back his bloodied hand as slivers of shattered wood tore at his flesh. He threw out his other hand and screamed a hasty string of words in a long disused language, wracking Murikeer with sudden agonizing pain. The skunk let out a shriek of his own, body bowing back under the blinding pain and tied to clutch at the new magical weave. The mercenaries, still hacking and pawing at their faces, fell back and did not press their advantage, unable to breathe or see for the stinging spray in their eyes and burning at their skin. After several failed attempts Murikeer found the mage’s spell weave and, clutching a single thread of it, wrenched the spell savagely. The mage cried out in sympathetic pain as the skunk’s magic reached out and leeched his own manna directly from him in a single overwhelming surge. He staggered and clutched at the cluster of stone beads about his neck, drawing more magic from them to replenish what Murikeer had stolen.

Freed from the severing spell and pain Murikeer stood tall once again and reached out for the Keep’s magic, feeling the resistance of it under whatever stilling spell laid upon the Keep, and was unable to draw upon it fully. Even muted he was able to siphon away enough to fortify himself and erect shields against any more magical attacks from the mage. With a pair of loud cracks the crossbowmen finally released their bolts but, half blinded by the gagging stench, their aim was far from perfect. One left a lance of pain across the edge of one ear, snapping Murikeer’s head to one side as it tore through the thin membrane of flesh, while the other merely added another hole to his already woebegone finery.

Maintaining his shields Murikeer brought his head back around and snarled, advancing upon the septet, ignoring another crossbow bolt hastily loaded and loosed as it slid from his shield. “Tell me where Thorne is before you die.” He growled furiously, raising one hand with the blinding radiance of a readied arcane bolt. Still half blind and fighting back the urge to retch one of the soldiers advanced to stand before the mage, sweeping his sword ineffectively at the skunk well beyond his reach. He fell a moment later, twitching and crackling, as the skunk sent that bolt into the center of his chest. Down to six, they fell back with the mage to their rear, toward the doorway they had been trying to batter down when the skunk came upon them. “You’ve nowhere to go, yield.”

The mage flung something small toward Murikeer and the skunk seized it from the air with a swift magical grasp. Before he could identify the purpose of the small stone the mage revealed it; with a strangled word the stone detonated in a fiery blast. Murikeer chirped in pain as the searing shards tore through his fur to score the flesh beneath, setting both fur and clothing aflame briefly. He batted at the smoldering remnants as the soldiers tried, once more, to batter through the door. Growling past the sharp, stinging pains Murikeer loosed a harsh wave of force that slammed them all mercilessly against stone and wood. The door cracked but did not fail as two soldiers slammed into it face first and fell, their helmets crushed about the remnants of their skulls by the impact. None of those who remained had fared a great deal better, staggering and slumping as they groaned in pain.

“I,” gasped the mage, holding up one hand futilely toward Murikeer as the skunk advanced, three of his fingers clearly broken by the impact, “I do - he is – he - ” he managed to force out, blood welling between his lips. His eyes rolled up as his body slumped in death and Murikeer snarled a curse. Only one of the mercenaries had enough life left in him to push his sword at Murikeer but the angry mage merely slapped it out of the way and kicked him in the face. He sprawled as Murikeer advanced past him to the door, pulling it open easily.

Beyond was a devastated hall. Statuary littered the floor and snow filtered down from a gaping hole in the roof high above. A still frigidity hung over the silent place and Murikeer stopped to gaze at the sheer destruction. A single giant lay not far away, its head little more than a skull savagely stripped of flesh. Claw marks marred the tattered remnants of leather armor. Nearby were a handful of likewise deceased wolves but none like Murikeer had ever before come across though he had heard their howls in the north. Keletikt had bade him to be wary of those songs with the fear of prey hearing the voice of a top predator. Lutins had mastered some of them, dire wolves, but those that still ran wild were a bane upon the tribes.

Why they would be rampaging about the Keep attacking Nasoj’s own forces Murikeer could not understand. Casting about the hall to be sure that none remained to finish off the unwary he advanced cautiously through the wreckage. Few of the statues were identifiable, shattered in the battles that had raged in the hall and punched that gaping hole above. He found the head of one, Orvid the first Duke of Metamor, lying at the base of the empty plinth that bore his name. The chipped marble face gazed up at him as if in rebuke and, with an atavistic lift of his lips, he stepped around it.

He found something slouched against the far side of the plinth that stopped him dead in his tracks and caused his knees to quake; a charred, barely recognizable corpse. It was shrouded in the remnants of a charred green gown and upon its blackened breast was a single gleaming yellow stone. Silver had melted into the victim’s tortured flesh and the stone was smutted by soot and singed fur but shone with a muted fire under the gleam of Murikeer’s witchlight. He slumped to his knees beside the charred remains and dropped his head, plunged into darkness when his witchlight flared, wavered, and faded from existence. He reached out to touch the sunken cheek of the ravaged flesh with his fingertips and, for the first time since the first savage attack that had begun his rampage, gave over to wracking sobs of soul numbing grief.

What lay there, slumped in impotent death against the plinth, was his love. Her death had been so abrupt, so senselessly pointless, he could not begin to grasp the meaning of it. She, a warrior and free spirit, would have done so much more than he in these trying, deadly times. His last words had been one of anger, words of repudiation for all that he had for her.

He had denied their love, and she had perished. Thorne’s thunderbolt had cut her down before he could even feel the weight of those words, before he could take them back. Now he would never be able to. Taking up the charred ruin of her hand he bent over Llyn’s corpse and wept only as the soul shattered could ever weep, bereft to the core of his very being, heedless of danger, and the hall echoed it back to him as if it, too, wept for such senseless death.

Morning December 26, 706 CR


Jesreg paced back and forth nervously beside the wall, his toe-claws tapping softly against the stone. Clenching his hands around the rodent-sized pike he was holding, he strained his ears to listen each time he passed by the thick wooden door. Each time he heard nothing, save the sound of his footsteps and the beating of his own heart.

"Jesreg, dear friend."

The mouse's ears twitched. "Huh?"

"I fully understand the need to stay fit for duty, but would you please indulge an old man and give it a rest?"

The young guard stopped, looked once more over at the door, and plopped down quietly to the floor.

"Thank you."

Jesreg cast an eye over at the gangly figure slouched in the corner of the small room. The man— to apply the term loosely— was dressed in a long blue magician's robe, accompanied by a broad-rimmed hat that flopped over his face. Presently he was twiddling his skeletal thumbs and staring idly off at the far corner of the room, glowing red eye-sockets focused on some invisible spot on the wall.

"Sorry," Jesreg said.

"Quite all right."

The largely-but-not-quite-fully dead wizard said nothing more, and Jesreg spent the next minute or so studiously examining his pike. It was in quite good condition, marred only by two hairline scrapes in the pole and a small chip in the blade. He had examined these same features forty-seven times by now and was intimately familiar with each of them.

"So ... what are you looking at?" he asked.

His companion shrugged fractionally. "Magic."





"What kind of magic?"

Another shrug. "The curses. The inherent magic of the Keep. Aura-prints left by people who were here recently. The corridor opening in this direction above our heads."

The mouse blinked. "A corridor?"

"Mm-hmm." He nodded toward the spot in the corner he'd been staring at.

Jesreg squinted at the spot. "I don't see anything."

"Wait for it."


"How long?"

"Oh, I'd say right about ... now."

As Jesreg watched, a five-foot wide circular piece of ceiling abruptly descended into the room, just over the spot the wizard had indicated. It stretched out into a column of stone, extending from floor to ceiling, and quickly formed into a spiral staircase. Three seconds after it had stopped moving a small purple dragon stuck its head inside and gazed at them quizzically, cocking its head so rakishly that Jesreg almost fell to one side as he found himself trying to orient himself to the dragon’s perspective.

"Kree?" it said.

"Um, hello," ventured Jesreg as he hastily regained his balance.

The dragonette waved one tiny fore talon at the rodent. In the same moment Jesreg's vision was filled with the image of a small black bird with an iridescent head.

The mouse gasped. "What...?"

"Don't worry," came another voice from above. " 'Tis just her way of saying hello."

Jesreg looked up to see an athletically built young woman descending the staircase, her flame-red hair drawn back in a long ponytail. She was dressed in studded leather armor and wore a rapier at her hip. A small golden key hung from a chain around her neck.

The warrior nodded at Jesreg. "My name is Daria," she said. "This is Starling."

"I'd guessed that," the mouse said, nodding. "I'm Jesreg."

"Pleased to meet you, Jesreg. Who is your ... oh, gods!"

The last statement ended in a gasp, and Jesreg looked over to his companion. The skeletal mage was sitting slumped over, head down, the light in his eye sockets obscured by the rim of the hat. He was intently studying some space on the floor, not moving in the slightest.

"How ... how did he die?" Daria murmured.

The wizard looked up, eliciting another gasp as the woman saw that unearthly glow coming from within his skull. "That," he said, "is a rather long story."

"He's only mostly dead," Jesreg offered.

Three sets of eyes turned to look at him.

The mouse shrugged. "Well..." he said, uncomfortably.

"My name is John Thesmere, Miss Daria," the lich said, rising smoothly to his feet. "I am most pleased to make your acquaintance, especially considering our circumstances."

After a long moment of staring, Daria blinked and nodded. "Right," she said, visibly gathering her thoughts. "How long have you two been in here?"

"Thirteen hours, roughly," John said. "We were forced inside when a rather nasty troop of Lutins poured in through the second gate."

"Master Thesmere's magic kept them out of here," Jesreg said.

Daria nodded again. "Is there anything important near here which you may be keeping them from taking?"

"Not that I am aware of."

"I haven't seen anything around here."

"All right. Come on, then— we have food and water waiting for you back at the Lightbringer Temple." She gave another glance at John. "For Jesreg, anyway."

John nodded once, and they fell into line behind the woman and the dragonette as they made their way back up the staircase. At the top Daria came to a halt, looking back down at the room they'd come from.


"What?" Jesreg asked, coming up to stand beside her. He wasn't really sure what she found so interesting— it was just four walls, a floor, and a ceiling, with nothing but the staircase inside it. There weren't even any boxes in the corners, or shelves on the walls.

Daria stared down for several seconds, biting her lip in a thoughtful look.

"Do either of you have any idea what that room was for?" she asked.

Jesreg looked at John. The lich looked down, looked back at the mouse, and shook his head briefly.

"No clue," Jesreg admitted.


After a moment more of staring at the bare stone walls below, Daria walked off down the corridor, Starling flitting along beside her. With a last look at their former prison, Jesreg turned and followed.

“How much longer do you figure we’ll be down here?”

“I have no idea. All I know is that this has been the first staircase we’ve come across that leads up for the last hour. Somehow I doubt it could be worse than the endless tunnels we’ve had to endure to this point.”

Jacob nodded grimly and continued to plod up the narrow stair case behind Rickkter. His paws were sore from covering what felt like untold miles of varied stone flooring, most of that littered with various debris. At least with Rickkter in front, he didn’t have to worry about spider webs covering his face any longer. So focussed was he on Rickkter’s back and simply putting one foot in front of the other that it took him a moment to realize they had reached the top of the stairway.

“At least this looks promising,” Jacob observed, his ears perked up. “The floors seem dry, and the walls don’t appear rotted out.”

“Very true. Now the trick will be in finding someone.”

Jacob nodded and sniffed at the air around them. Finding someone was probably not going to be difficult, the catch was finding someone who would not try and kill them on sight. Surely a good number of the Keepers would have sought shelter down here from the invading army. Of course the army would know that, too.

His whiskers twitched at some of the more pungent odours. Perhaps finding someone in this place defiantly wouldn’t that difficult after all; it appeared no one had been down here in months. He was so caught up in some of the more unusual odours, that Jacob almost missed Rickkter when he turned down a small side corridor. About to inquire why they were going that way, Jacob had his muzzle quickly clamped shut by the raccoon’s paw. Rickkter placed a finger across his own lips as he quickly but gently led the fox a bit deeper into the corridor. The witchlight continued to bob its merry way down the corridor, eventually leaving the two morphs enclosed in darkness. Jacob figured someone must be following them, but he certainly had heard no signs of pursuit...

Well, seeing and hearing were two totally different things. Just as he was about to again ask what was going on, his ears picked up the sounds of feet very, very lightly sliding over the stone flooring at the mouth of the corridor. Whoever it was, Rickkter was on them like a flash, grabbing the form by its neck and slamming it hard up against the wall. Before Jacob could even raise his own weapon, Rickkter had a new witchlight burning and a dagger shoved up against the neck of their prisoner.

It turned out their prisoner was a scrawny, naked, and very panic-stricken looking rat. His attention was being split three ways, between Rickkter’s dagger, the blood clotting the front of Rickkter’s coat, and the look of pure homicidal menace Rickkter was giving him back. “Okay, who the hell are you?” the raccoon growled.

“G-Goldmark.” the rat stammered.

“And what were you doing following us?”

“I wanted... I wanted to see what you were doing!” That last past was a little loud, and Rickkter squeezed the rat’s throat to make sure he understood that. Goldmark resumed in something a little over a hissing whisper. “The Keep has been overrun, you two are the first keepers I’ve seen down here. I wanted to make sure you weren’t in with them.”
“I think there’s little chance of that,” Rick replied.

Jacob wuffed in agreement. “Exactly. We wouldn’t have had to spend most of today crawling through the sewers just to get in here. How bad are things going? Is the army holding at the walls to the actual Keep itself?”

“We’ve been totally overrun!” Goldmark squeaked out. At that news Rickkter let him slip down the wall, though he kept the dagger held close. “The defenders never saw it coming; it was only a matter of a few minutes before the overran the walls. That’s all I know since we took refuge down here.”

“‘We’?” Jacob casually inquired, his ears cocked to side.

Goldmark slumped against Rickkter’s paw, his ears folded back against his head, and muttered something. “Look, we’re not going to harm either you or your friends,” Rick told him. “Frankly, all we want to do is find the other keepers, find some kind of shelter.”

“Well that... that I can do.” Goldmark’s little black eyes lifted to stare at Rickkter. “That is, if you’ll let me go.”

Rickkter nodded, letting go and sheathing his knife. “Okay. Sorry about being so rough on you, but we didn’t know who we’d run into.”

Goldmark combed through the fur at his neck, rubbing at various spots.

“Understandable, considering. The rest are jumpy as well, why I’m out here. Now I can take you where we’re holed up, but I don’t know how you two will be able to fit through the entrance.”

“You fit through.”

“Ah, but there’s a difference. You’ll see when we get there. And till then, no talking. And dim the light.”

Rickkter cocked an eye ridge at that, but silently followed the rat, the witchlight little more than a light gathering of sparks in the darkness. The little, silent black rat navigated them down corridors and up winding spiral staircases with the ease of one quite familiar with their surroundings. Eventually the trio came to a solitary store room, the door of heavy oak and bearing a lock that looked like it had not been touched in ages. Rickkter commented on that. “So how do we get inside?”

Goldmark simply pointed down to the small rat hole in the bottom of the door. “I told you you’d have problems getting in.”

A sharp grimace on his muzzle, Rick bent and looked closer at the lock. “You go inside now, tell them we’re coming. We’ll be there in a moment.” Jacob saw Rick had drawn the smaller of his two swords and was working the point into the space between the lock and the hasp.

Goldmark was quick to shift to rat form and scurry inside. Rickkter waited a few moments, making sure his knife was set correctly, before he gave it a quick jerk and split the hasp. Almost no sound, Jacob noticed. Must have been a spell. Rickkter had to brace himself against the wall in order to force the door open. Despite the sound dampening spell, Jacob still heard the hinges squeal.

The storeroom, much to Jacob’s surprise, turned out to be an old wine cellar. Inside was Goldmark and three other rats, all huddled around a trio of candles.

“Nice going,” spat one of the rats, a medium brown one. “Now how the hell are we going to keep the invaders out of here?”

“I cast a few minor fear spells, enough to dissuade anyone from looking down the hall. Also a few illusions on the door itself. It won’t appear to have been touched in years.” Rick looked away from the rat and over the bottles of wine. “Besides, we won’t be staying here long.”

“Oh?” asked the brown one again. The grey and white ones were huddled off in the corner away from the mage, letting their friend do the talking. “Why is that?”

“Because,” Rickkter replied, picking up a bottle from the wall racks and inspecting the label, “we have an army that has overrun the Keep. If they win, they’ll eventually find you here and kill you. If you have to die, better to do it fighting for something.” He turned the bottle towards the rat. “My friend and I have not had any food since last night. Mind if we?”

The rat snorted. “If you can get it open. We’ve nothing to extract the cork on those.”
Rickkter just smirked at him, one side of his whiskers tilting up. He turned the bottle back and crabbed his fingers over the top, so that the tips of his claws were against the glass. With a light screech, he turned the bottle in a circle, clasped the top when that was done, and with a slight strain pulled the top off. “Magic. A wonderful thing,” he explained to the still unamused rat. He gave the others in the room a quick toast. “Morricore, a very good wine. Cheers.” And he tipped back the bottle, taking a full mouthful.

Which he promptly spat out in a deep scarlet spray all over the wall.

“Ug, maybe not so good,” he said, grimacing at the label once again. “The stuff’s been down here long enough to turn to vinegar.”

“You said.... something about getting out of here.” It was one of the other rats, the white one, Jacob noted. “Where do you plan to go?”

“The Lightbringer Temple. It’s one of the few fall back strongholds within the keep, and.... that is probably where I’d be needed most. Misha’s also told me that they’ve provisions there to last out a siege such as this.”

Jacob added, softly. “You know you can’t hide forever.”

“Watch us,” the brown one said, bitterly.

“I’m going with you,” the white one said to Rickkter, slowly standing up. Goldmark and the grey rat also assented.

“Damn it all, Julian,” the brown one mumbled as he rose to his feet. “You’ll get us all killed.” He heaved a sigh. “Fine. Guess I’ll go, too.”

“Perhaps names are in order, then. I’m Rickkter, that’s Jacob.”

“Julian,” said the white rat. “You already know Goldmark. My friend here is Elliot, and that’s Hector,” he concluded, pointing.

The raccoon just nodded. “Right. Okay, get together what you’re taking with you, because we’re moving out.”

Rois' three apprentices have been creeping around these halls for what seems like hours now, Colin probing at the minds of the groups of lutins they've come upon, and so far, they haven't had any luck with finding a large group of lutins from separate tribes. ~It's just our luck to keep running into groups of lutins all from the same tribe.~ Drake thinks to himself.

A voice in the dragon morph's head startles him, however, ::I know, Drake. It stinks, but we have to keep looking.::

~Dammit, Colin! How many times have I told you to stop doing that?~ Drake really doesn't like his brother eavesdropping on his thoughts like that.

::Sorry,:: comes the other boy's sheepish mental response. Suddenly, he stops, ::Bingo! I've found some!:: After standing there for a couple of minutes, he continues, ::One tribe calls themselves the Swift Arrows, the other the Shredding Fangs.::

Aisha just stares at him, and he shrugs. ::That's what they call themselves.:: She rolls her eyes, and Drake smirks. ::Now... how to get them fighting each other...:: he scrunches up his face slightly, and soon they hear a ruckus from around the next corner. Lutins yelling and screaming, the clash of arms, the sounds of crude weapons connecting with flesh.

Drake and Aisha exchange glances before both asking, mentally, ~What did you do?~

Colin grins and replies, ::Just enhanced their natural violent tendencies a bit, so that they started fighting each other.:: Suddenly the grin drops off is face, and he gulps, ::We better get moving, they're heading this way!::

~WHAT?~ again the twin chorus from his siblings. The three start running from the sound of clashing weapons, only to hear the sound of charging Lutins coming down the hall in front of them.

::Dammit,:: Colin swears, ::that wasn't all of them! Some of the Shredding Fangs are coming this way to join the battle!::

The three of them look around frantically as the Lutins are closing in on them from both directions, and they spot a small alcove off to the side of the hallway. The three look at each other briefly, then run for the alcove. ~Please let this work!~ Colin thinks silently to himself.

The noises of the approaching hordes get louder and louder, as the three press themselves against the walls of the alcove to try and make themselves as invisible as possible, given the circumstances. Drake along one wall, Colin and Aisha along the opposite wall.

~If only this hallway weren't so small, I could assume full dragon form and take out huge swathes of these guys.~ Drake grumbled to himself as the Lutins approached. Distracted by their inter-tribal rivalry, the two tribes, with the rest of Shredding Fangs now having reunited with the advanced scouts, commenced the work of death with each other.

The triplets held their breaths, figuratively speaking, as they waited to see the outcome of the battle. Their reprieve was not to last, however, as a cold breeze chose then to blow through the arrow slit behind them and over the lutins, some of whom sniffed the air and turned to see the three Keepers hiding in the alcove.

::Crud,:: Colin swore again, ::They've spotted us!:: The three readied their weapons as the Lutins let loose a war cry and attempted to charge into the alcove, waving their crude weapons.

The first few Lutins fall back under the assault of Drake's fire breath weapon, burning and screaming, but are quickly replaced by others. The three stand together, trying to fight them off, and having some success due to the relative narrowness of the alcove. However, the Lutins just keep coming, with no end in sight, and the three are slowly being pushed further and further back into the alcove.

::I don't know how much longer I can keep this up!:: Colin frantically sends to his siblings.

~Same here,~ comes back the reply from both of the other two, as they are finally pushed back up against the back wall, with nowhere else to go.

~Oh Kami, we're going to die, here! I don't want to die!~ Aisha thinks, panicked and scared.

The Lutins keep swarming the three Keepers and are about to attempt killing blows when Aisha screams, "I don't wanna die!" and she is surrounded by a blue-white aura, as the blizzard outside suddenly bursts through the arrow slit above their heads, and swirls around, literally picking up the swarming Lutins and throwing them out of the alcove, freezing them solid in midair.

Frost forms on the walls of the alcove and quickly spreads out from there along the corridor as a fierce, magically enhanced, freezing wind blows down the hallway in either direction, freezing Lutins in place and covering them with heavy snow drifts, leaving a scene that looks like a forest of snowmen inside the keep. Aisha then collapses, unconscious, into her brothers' arms, the aura fading from around her.

Aisha groans and slowly opens her eyes, blinking a couple of times as faces come into focus, those of her brothers and Rois. She winces at a sudden headache and closes her eyes back up, groaning again, "What happened and why does my head hurt so much?"

She can hear the smirk in Rois' voice, "Well, my dear, that's what happens when you burn yourself out on a single spell."

Aisha cracks her eyes open slightly, "Wha?"

Colin speaks up this time, "You really did a number on those Lutins, sis. The whole hallway was littered with frozen Lutin corpses, most of which were still standing."

Aisha sits up now, grimacing at the intensified headache that causes, but grits her teeth for a few seconds before asking, "I... I froze the entirety of that swarm... both of those tribes?"

Drake grins and nods, "Yeah! It was incredible! They just froze stiff and then were covered in snow, looked like some kind of frozen Lutin forest."

Rois nods, "However, because of your little stunt, you're not fit to fight for a while yet. Please try to get some more rest, you need to recharge." She then turns to look at the two brothers, "As for you two, stay with her and make sure that she does get that rest." Drake starts to protest, but Rois holds up her hand to silence him, "No excuses, you two are staying here. I know you, and you won't be able to concentrate fully on the fight at hand if you're having to worry about your sister."

December 26, 1pm


Raven looked up from her desk, where she sat before a stack of old books she had gathered from the Archives some hours before. They were collections of prophecies, gathered from a wide variety of sources, most of them several hundred years old. She had been hoping to find some prediction of the current assault on Metamor, but so far her search was coming up empty.

"Aye. Come in, Daria."

The young woman stuck her head in through the open door, then moved to stand before Raven's desk.

"How have your raids been progressing?" the priestess asked.

"Very well, Mistress," Daria said, nodding once. "No casualties as yet, and we've rescued several people from isolated rooms behind enemy lines. We've also made contact with Father Hough at the cathedral."

"Excellent!" Raven said, her ears perking forward. "How is everyone?"

"Safe and secure, it seems. Lady Kyia seems to be doing her best to protect them."

The wolf-woman smiled. "I knew she would," she said, half to herself.

"Lord Thomas is there, as well," Daria added. "Apparently, he arrived with Master Cutter and several of his guards some time yesterday. Cutter is wounded, but they think he will be all right."

"Good," Raven said, nodding. "Has the Duke given you new orders, then?"

"No. On the contrary, he was quite pleased with our efforts," Daria replied, her green eyes sparkling with satisfaction.

"I thought he might be," Raven agreed. "It sounds as though you are doing an excellent job, Daria. Carry on."

"Thank you, Lothanasa."

The warrior-woman turned and left, her gait firm and sure. How much she had matured, Raven thought, from the mischievous boy who had danced across the ramparts with visions of battle in his head!

Leaning back in her chair, Raven sighed. Daria was too young to remember much from the Battle of Three Gates— and, in any event, all of the children had been hidden in the catacombs below the Keep hours before that battle began. The boys and girls at Metamor now would remember all too clearly what battle was really like. The shouts and screams, the blood, the fire and smoke as the town was ransacked, the evil stink of death ... no, these children would not dream of the glories of battle. Combat was not a dream, but a nightmare, and the young innocents who survived would be plagued by its demons for years to come. Raven knew that from painful experience.

She had just turned twenty-one when Nasoj arrived with his army, storming down through the valley in his first attempt at conquest. At that time the Lightbringers had been strong at Metamor: her father, Elric, had been Lothanas, and there were four other priests and priestesses at the Keep alone. Raven had been the youngest, working primarily as a healer near the front lines of the battle; her brother Aramis was working in a similar role, while her father, mother and sister remained back at the Temple and tended to the wounded.

Or, at least, that had been the plan. In the heat of battle, it was difficult for her to stay aware of all that was going on— though when a Balrog crashed through the walls of the Outer Keep, pretty much everyone stopped to take notice. Although it was technically a "lesser" daedra, the battle-master struck terror into all who saw it: two thousand pounds of rock-hard muscle and bone, virtually immune to physical attack, the Balrog was Lord Revonos's most fearsome servant.

Raven knew, when she saw her father emerge to face that creature, that it would almost certainly mean his death. Elric was carrying Elemacil, the Holy Sword of Metamor— one of the only weapons on Earth that could harm such a beast. The Balrog sneered at him, mocking his courage, but Elric strode forward with strength and dignity that belied his age.

The battle was intense and savage, as Elric gave the Balrog far more than it had bargained for. The power of Dokorath himself flowed through Elric's limbs, matching the daedra's brute strength with speed and agility that seemed unreal for a man in his fifties. Even with divine assistance, though, it was not a sure victory by any means, and soon both fighters were battered and bloody.

In the end, Elric summoned all of his power to imprison and banish the weakened daedra, punching a hole in the ether with sheer force of will and pushing the Balrog through. It was a phenomenal task, one that required extreme amounts of energy to accomplish— Lightbringers never even attempted such a feat without divine backing. Elric, though, did it on his own ... and drained himself so much that he collapsed, unconscious.

He died a few days later, his body giving out from the strain. By that time, the Temple had been washed clean of the blood of Raven's mother, brother and sister, not to mention countless acolytes— the work of some unholy butcher who had managed to slip through the Temple's defenses. Raven was at her father's side as he lay on his own deathbed, and before the darkness claimed him he weakly picked up Elemacil and placed it in her hands.

"The battle is yours now, Karenna," he told her, addressing her by her childhood name. "Metamor needs a protector, and that task now falls to you. Be brave. Be strong. Raise up others in our ways. Walk in the light ... Lothanasa..."

And then he was gone. And Raven, for the first time in her life, was alone.

Fresh tears rolled down Raven's cheeks at the memory, as she stared unseeing at the walls of her office. She had done as her father said. She had been brave. She had been strong. She had raised up Merai in the ways of the Lothanasi. She walked in the light, even when it seemed that more than half of the High Council was steeped in some kind of hidden darkness. And now the man who killed her family seven and a half years ago had come back to try to finish the job.

A soft, high-pitched whine sounded beside her, stirring Raven out of her reverie. She looked down to see Wanderer nosing the palm of her hand, his ears back against his head and his tail wagging submissively. His expression of concern was obvious.

With a sad, silent laugh, Raven scratched behind his ears, stroking his head consolingly. He whined again, sticking out the tip of his tongue in another submissive gesture. Then, much to the priestess's surprise, he put his front paws up on her lap and nosed at her face.

"Agh!" Raven cried, pulling away from him as she pushed at his nose. "Wand'rer!"

Abruptly, the wolf stopped, drawing his head back and staring at her. Raven looked back, puzzled at his sudden change in behavior. His yellow eyes gazed alertly into her own blue ones, canine submission suddenly replaced with ... something else.

Tentatively, Raven sent a mental probe towards him, projecting a tendril of consciousness into the wolf's mind. On the outer edges, she saw the chaotic thoughts of an animal swirling like a maelstrom— unconscious, without direction, more instinct than real cognition. But in the center, desperately trying to hold itself together, was something more ... structured.

"Wand'rer?" Raven whispered. "Charles? Are you in there?"

Slowly, the wolf lifted one paw. Then, carefully, gently, he reached up...

And touched her cheek.

Raven stayed utterly motionless, hardly daring to breathe, as Wanderer awkwardly held the rough pads of his foot to the place where the tears had run down her face. Then, he shifted his gaze to that paw, his expression of concern changing to one of confusion and anxiety. Slowly, he lowered the paw and placed his head on her lap, whining softly.

Raven closed her eyes and let out a long, defeated sigh. She ran her hand over his head and shoulders, tears once again rolling down her face.

"Wand'rer," she murmured, shaking her head sadly. "Why? Why did you do this to yourself?"

"Because Christopher is his friend."

Raven looked up, startled at the intrusion. Lurene stood leaning against the doorframe, arms folded and legs crossed, her eyes fixed on the priestess and the former poet. Her expression was neutral, but her gray eyes shone intently.

The Lothanasa glared at her, lupine ears flattening against her head. "And what was I?" she demanded, her voice like ice. "If he does this to himself for a friend, what was I, Lurene?!"

The younger woman didn't flinch. "I don't know, Raven. What were you?"

Raven blinked. It took her a moment to find her voice. "What are you talking about? I love him!"

"Did you ever tell him that?"

"He knew!"

"Did you ever show him?"

The priestess sputtered for a moment. "I— well— I was at least as close as Christopher!" she protested.

"Were you?" Lurene pressed, her voice firm but totally devoid of any mocking tone. "I never saw you break fast with them, or show up to one of his performances. Are you sure that he knew you loved him?"

Raven swallowed uncomfortably, blinking back angry tears. "He knew," she insisted quietly, looking down. "It was just ... so hard for me to say it. Everyone I ever loved ... my family ... they were all dead. All of them, Lurene. And then Charles came, and..." She fell silent for a moment, running her fingers through the wolf's fur.

"He made me care about life again," she said, her voice soft. "He showed me how to find joy in the world around me— that my family's death didn't have to mean death for me." She looked back up at Lurene. "He was a pillar of strength when I needed it most."

"But did he know that?" Lurene asked. "Did he know how much you depended on him— on his strength, his love? Did you tell him?"

Slowly, Raven shook her head. "No."

"And that," the younger woman said gently, "is why he did this." She came closer, putting her hands on Raven's desk. "You were always trying to be strong, Raven. You had everyone convinced that you could handle anything. Maybe you had to be that way— maybe that kind of confidence is part of being the Lothanasa. But you never showed Wand'rer the truth, did you? He may have known you loved him, but he didn't know that you needed him. As far as he knew, you were strong enough to stand on your own. But Chris— Chris needed him. To Wand'rer's mind, Chris had a problem that he could never solve on his own. He needed Wand'rer's help. And like any loyal member of the pack, Wanderer sacrificed himself to help the one who needed him."

"And let the strong one stand on her own," Raven murmured, her eyes distant.

"Aye," Lurene agreed. "I'm sure it would have torn him apart, had he known that he would be forced to choose between you. But Christopher's need gave him more impetus to risk his life than you gave him to try to preserve it."

Again, Raven looked down at the wolf, his body still draped over her lap. "It is still tearing him apart," she said quietly. "He is still in there, Lurene. Somewhere." She shook her head. "Why can he not come out?"

Lurene straightened, backing away from the desk a little. "Who can say?" she said, shrugging sadly. "Perhaps, on some level, he's waiting." She turned and began walking toward the door.

"Waiting?" Raven asked, calling after her.

Lurene stopped and looked back over her shoulder.

"Waiting for someone to need him."

With that she left, shutting the door with a soft click. In the silence that followed, Raven wrapped her arms around the wolf, pressing her face against the scruff of his neck, and quietly wept.

December 26, 706 – Time indeterminate

Keepers, the first he had seen of any number since the battle began, stared at him from beyond the barricade of bric-a-brac hastily erected across the corridor before the doorway to the Long House, crossbows held at the ready and pointed at his chest. They did not challenge his approach as he stalked down the corridor littered with human and Lutin corpses. He was a Keeper, one of the countless many that had staggered toward their line seeking any shelter from the invasion they could find. He carried Llyn’s charred remains in his arms and their gazes took that grievous ruin in as he passed wordlessly between them.

It was a haggard line of weary, battle toughened stares that watched his approach without wavering. All were as soiled by combat as he was, their fur and hair and flesh blood spattered and bruised. The toll of death and destruction seemed to have been paid from the depths of their hollow stares. Those that had come seeking to exact some small measure of that toll lay littered along the corridor, bodies stiffened with cold and injurious death, fletched with arrow and bolt and carved by blade. Not all were Lutin or northern mercenary; some where those who had paid the ultimate and final price to defend their home but had not yet been recovered. None moved, no telltale mist of fading breath trailed up from gaping muzzles or mouths. Murikeer only saw vague forms, human and animal, in the fog of his own heavy burden of body and soul, yet he felt a kinship of sorrow with them.

One said something through an arrowloop beside the door and it opened as Murikeer came to it. He recognized the towering, red haired Amazonian woman beyond, but it was but a dim spark somewhere in the distant back of his mind. The woman took him in with a single glance, gasping quietly as she saw the ruin he carried. Others crowded toward the door, a susurrus of stunned whispers passing among them as Murikeer staggered into the center of the Long House. The crowd parted a moment later Misha Brightleaf, their commander and surrogate father figure to many, strode through them with a furious snarl.

Spying Murikeer his ears came up in surprise, and then backed in horror at what he carried. His muzzle wrinkled in a pained moue and he staggered to a halt. George, the master of Metamor’s regular patrol, quietly stepped forward to take Murikeer’s burden. “I’ll take her, Muri.” He growled softly as he took her slight weight into his arms. Murikeer rested one hand upon the body and, with a slow curl of his fingers, gathered up the citrine from her breast and lifted it away. George favored him with a consoling nod and withdrew solemnly. The crowd parted for him while others, Misha among them, stood unmoving. The skunk’s distant gaze slowly took in the crowd and finally came to rest on the fox and a sudden dark rage clutched at his heart, catching his breath in his lungs. This is where she should have been, with those like her capable of carrying the fight. Instead it had fallen upon him, a mere boy not yet into his second decade of life, to carry on in her stead. Someone laid a gentle, staying hand upon his shoulder.

He lived, and she had died. Not only died, but been killed by his own pupil!

From deep within his center Murikeer felt that frustrated, dark rage roil and surge upward, forcing itself from his lungs in a wordless cry of pure grief and rage. Shedding the comforting hand, Fox and fighters forgotten, he spun and fled for the door. He would find Thorne. He would find the man and he would kill the man; he would avenge his love’s senseless death upon the man’s flesh. He would flense the dark evil of his very soul!

He heard Misha bark something after him, an approbation or an order he cared not what, and ran through the still open door, past the startled guards, and into the cold darkness of Metamor’s halls again.

"How accurate is that thing?"

Daria shrugged. "As accurate as we need it to be. Most of the main rooms don't change position overmuch, at least on the first floor— 'tis the corridors around them that shift the most."

Morel looked at the rough map skeptically, but nodded. "What did you have in mind for our next target?"

The woman smirked. "I'm open to suggestions."

"Something bigger," Garulf said, pointing a thick, furry finger at the map. "This is the storage magazine for the southward trebuchet battery. There are at least a dozen kegs of dragon dust inside, and a few dozen explosive loads."

Brennar stared aghast at the bear-morph. "You want to blow up the castle?!" he cried.

"It wouldn't blow up the castle," Morel assured him, putting a comforting hand on the feline's shoulder.

"But it would raise hell in the enemy camp," Daria said, gesturing at a set of markers on the map. "Look here— that makeshift barracks the scouts found this morning is right next to it. If we hit the dust reserves in that magazine, the explosion should blow out this door— here— and blast straight through the middle of the barracks room."

"Exactly," Garulf rumbled. "If it does enough damage, we may even be able to eliminate the survivors before we escape."

"Wait a minute," Weyden said, lifting one feathered arm. "How do we protect ourselves from the explosion?"

Starling spoke up, projecting an image of the map with a series of blue X's lining the walls outside the enemy barracks. There was an additional X in a small passageway next to the magazine. Then the passageway closed, the magazine flashed red and yellow, and the other X's entered the barracks through passages in the walls.

"Good idea, Starling," Daria said. "I'll enter the magazine using the Key and lay down a few trails of dust as fuses. Starling, I shall need you to light them before we close the passage behind us."

The dragonette nodded.

"After the blast, the rest of you will storm the barracks and kill any survivors. I'll guard our escape route and make certain the battle doesn't turn against us. If things seem to be going badly, I'll call for a retreat."

"How will we get into the barracks if you have the Key?" Brennar asked.

"I don't have to be with you for the Keep to open the passageways," Daria reminded him. "Remember the battle at the armory— all I need is to be able to visualize the corridors that need to be formed. I know this part of the Keep well, so it should not be difficult."

Morel ran a hand over his chin stubble thoughtfully. In the end, he nodded. "Looks good. How many troops were there in the barracks when the scouts came through?"

"They counted around three dozen. Depending on the hour, of course, there could be more or less."

"Chancy, but worth it," Bradfox said. "Nobody ever won a war by playing it safe."

"Agreed," Daria said. "What about the rest of you? Are you with us?"

She extended her arm toward the center of their circle, palm facing upward. Garulf placed his hand over hers immediately. They were swiftly joined by Bradfox and Weyden. Brennar looked nervous about the whole idea, but followed suit when Morel and Starling put their own hands in. Jessica came last, putting her wing carefully atop the stack of arms.

"We're with you, Squire," she said firmly. "Anywhere you lead."

They broke the circle and rose to their feet, as Daria opened a passage out of the small stone room where they had held their meeting.

"Let's go then, all," she said, starting off down the corridor. "We've a fireworks show to put on."

The trapdoor is firmly closed, thanks to a spare metal rod discovered on the campsite shoved into the crack around the trapdoor to keep it stuck. It rattles a bit as the Lutins underneath keep pushing at it, but they’ve failed to make progress so far.

Kirk has caught his breath, thus accounting for the only thing that could count as a casualty in the last encounter. He stands off to the side, taking off his clothes and adding them to a more or less self-contained bundle along with his axe, and then he starts doing a few stretches in preparation for the run he’s going to have to make.

The other tent has been taken down, and Jo and Jono (having taken over for Perry) are working quickly with the poles and fabric and ropes, working it into a configuration shaped much like a wagon, but without the wheels. Each time one of the wood poles gets to Jo, she takes a modest-sized vial filled with some liquid and proceeds to pour it over the wood, presumably treating it somehow. The ropes get the same sort of treatment. Jono in the meantime is continuously checking measurements, making sure there’s enough material to work with. There are two of the enemy tents (thankfully both Very large) in addition to the two smaller ones they’d kept with them, and he plans on having two of these “wagons.”

Perry is checking his sword over, then going through the meager armory the Lutins that formerly occupied this campsite had with them, sorting through what’s availabe to see if it could be of any use. He has one particularly long spear set aside; Jo specifically requested one. She’s going to be helping with the rearguard, so she apparently thinks she’ll need the melee weapon. He thinks she’s probably right.

Dana has already made sure her sword is in good condition. She’s not checking any other weapons; she doesn’t need them. She has the best eyesight of anyone in the group, so she’s watching in the direction that the Lutins had come from. The effects of Kevin’s illusion can’t be expected to last forever; he’s still in the middle of the campsite concentrating on maintaining it, but the Lutins are bound to figure things out eventually. So she keeps an eye out.

Jahnsen, by the same token, is keeping an ear out, though not as much as Dana. Between checks he’s doing a few stretches not dissimilar to Kirk’s for the flight he’s going to have to take. Fortunately the wind is headed in the direction they want, so he’s not going to have to fight it. It’s still going to be an adventure, though...

Kevin, as Dana has noted, is busy keeping the illusory wave of flame going. He’s had a lot of practice with maintaining illusions under pressure, though he’s used to pressure from trying to study at the same time rather than from combat; he usually uses these to recreate historical scenes rather than creating them.

The kids are mostly watching Jono and Jo with interest, though Derek and Sammy are all going around to make sure everyone in their earler cabal is armed Just In Case. Jeremy is getting lots of accolades for being the kid of that mage guy who just did that Really Cool-looking spell against the Lutins, but is responding mostly with silent smiles. Daemion is carefully watching all the adults, one after another, just making sure that they all stay okay; somehow he’s pretty confident that if something goes poorly with them he’d be the one to help again. He can already tell what the two bards are working on, though; it’s a pretty clever idea...

Orrusk is completely out of paitence.

“Jargand! Stand back,” he says in a very firm voice; the commanding nature is instantly recognizable. The impressively large Lutin that’s been shoving at the trapdoor for the past few minutes backs away, watching his new commander in an almost curious fashion.

Orrusk walks up, looking upwards at the trapdoor. Going from what Jargand had reported from his attempts to push it open, something was keeping it locked shut. No way to deal with that unless he takes action.

So in one swift motion, Orrusk whips out the Blackhand Scimitar, arcing it upward torwards the trapdoor, leaving an afterimage of a continuous dark green flare through the air as he cuts in an arcing direction around the front end of the door itself. The blade cuts through the stone and adjacent blocking metal like warm butter, leaving only a slight ringing sound as it does so.

The sound might have gone unnoticed in the winds. But Daemion clearly sees the tip of the sword as it flashes up from the trapdoor, causing him to go wideyed for a moment before calling out. “Dad! Guys! They just put a sword through that door thing!”

Perry just blinks, turns to look at the trapdoor. Nothing apparent. “You sure?”

“Cross heart an’ hope not to die!” Daemion shouts back.

Perry nods, even as Jo and Jono look up from their nearly completed work. “What’s going on?” the cat asks, looking rather concerned.

Perry opens his mouth to answer, but stops as the trapdoor is suddenly shoved upward and with one quick motion a Lutin leaps outward from it, brandishing a mean-looking scimitar and grinning evilly.

Before most of the others have mentally registered the Lutin’s arrival Jo is already moving, both of her daggers in her paws. She can see an arm holding up the trapdoor, presumably to allow more Lutins to get out; one of her daggers is headed that way. The other is for the one with the scimitar. The former connects, and the trapdoor slams down just in time to cut off any more than the first second of a howl of pain from the owner of said arm.

The latter misses as the Lutin dodges to the side, half-parrying it with his scimitar and almost knocking it to the ground. This in itself is enough to shock anyone watching. He parried one of Jo’s daggers? That’s impossible!

Jo herself doesn’t look nearly as intimidated, quickly stowing both daggers. “Perry!”

He knows, somehow, that she means she wants the spear, and he’s tossed it to her well before he conciously realizes it, let alone what her wanting it implies. He gets the latter fairly quickly, though, when she swiftly covers the shaft of the spear with the same liquid she’d been using in the tent reconstruction and then charges torwards the Lutin, shouting back. “Jono! Get the kids moving!”

“Wha– ...Right!” Jono yells, leaping up and starting to disrobe, much like Kirk. “Jahnsen! Get going; to the tower like we planned!” The batmorph nods, turning and spreading his wingflaps in preparation for takeoff. “Perry! Get the sleds ready! We need to get going!” he yells, slightly distracting the porcupine as he watches Jo raise the spear to deflect an overhead stroke as though it were a quarterstaff... and then he blinks amazedly as the shaft not only blocks it, but survives the blow. Damn. Whatever the hell’s in that formula, it’s got to be serious stuff!

“PERRY!” The ’pine shakes his head, nods to the bard. “Right!” He turns to Dana, who’s watching Jahnsen to make sure nothing goes wrong as the bat takes off. “Dana! I’m going to need your help getting the harnesses on!”

“Of course!” The woman runs torwards the two ’wagons’, veering torwards the one nearest her brother

Clang! The spear, incredibly, stands up to another blow from the Scimitar. That must have been an alchemical treatment she put on the shaft, Orrusk realizes. He grins across the crossed weapons at the vixen, who is showing no signs of enjoyment, only resolve. “Surrender,” he offers. The vixen’s reply is merely to smile coldly just before swinging the butt end of the spear torwards his head.

He ducks, holding the Scimitar before him, waiting for his opponent to move next; she doesn’t dissapoint as she attempts to follow through, swinging the spear around to jab at him with the point, arms twisted at a slightly unusual angle. He parries the tip to the side, then tries to swing in to take advantage of her being in an unusual position, but in a blindingly swift move she twirls the spear back around and the butt end is there to block his swing. Before he can react to That she brings the middle of the spear down onto the Scimitar, knocking it off-balance briefly so she can swing the point at his face; he dodges to the side, rebalancing the Scimitar as he does so, then leaps backward to avoid her jab with the butt end as she follows through on That swing.

The two combatants stare at eachother for a moment, and then Jo smiles coldly again. “Surrender,” she offers.

“Ha!” Before Jo can realize it the Lutin is thrusting his sword forward torwards her; she manages to smack it away just in time before it manages to do anything more than prick her clothing. Orrusk starts trying to press the advantage, swinging in low, and then after she catches the blade with the spearpoint and flicks it upwards, swinging in high. She catches the blade on the middle of the spear, then suddenly twirls her spear around the scimitar, thus causing the scimitar to curve slightly in Orrusk’s hand.

Orrusk grunts in surprise, and tries to flick his wrist and send the scimitar’s tip upward in an attempt to disarm the vixen. As soon as he does so, though, Jo gets the spear under the blade and smacks it even further upward, then turns the butt end torwards him and rams it into his belly before he can correct his mistake, causing him to let out his breath with a surprised oof!. He brings the blade swiftly downward, but awkwardly, and only manages to catch her on the side of the muzzle with the flat of his blade, eliciting a surprised yip! and a leap backwards, but no more.

The combatants both look at each other.

“Surrender,” they both offer in unison.

Jo smiles again, this time with a bit of respect mixed in with the coldness; she’d expected to be over with this much earlier. Still, it’s almost welcome after the failure with Derek and Sammy; about time she had a challenge that she can face straight on.

Orrusk’s grin is completely unchanged, but underneath that he’s starting to get more than a little worried. Ideally he would have been able to quickly plow through this mage, then the other one beyond her and get his Lutins some time to get out and overrun the small fighting force he was sure was here. But there’s clearly more than just a few strong individuals here; even this mage is giving him trouble. The situation is clearly Not in his favor.

So Orrusk resumes by feinting to the right, and Jo follows when he cuts to the left; Jo quickly brings the butt end up to deflect the blade upwards, then spins around completely, swinging the butt end of the spear towards Orrusk’s head. Orrusk ducks downward, swinging for Jo’s unprotected back, but she gets all the way around and has the spear shaft in the way before he can connect. Then suddenly she flips the end of the spear torwards him, smashing into his hand. The brief half-second Orrusk takes to readjust the severely disrupted grip on his sword is all the time Jo needs to reverse the direction of the spear and catch Orrusk in the side of the head with the spearpoint, leaving a nasty looking gash next to his ear, and knocking him slightly dizzy just long enough for her to deliver a coup de grace with the butt end, crashing it into the other side of his head and knocking him to the ground. It’s a very strong blow; Orrusk almost doesn’t even have to fake unconciousness; as such by the time he hits the ground his wits return to him, and he slumps, his attempt to look defeated assisted greatly by the thickened snows.

“Surrender accepted,” he hears the vixen offer one last time. It’s all he can do to resist chuckling.

Jo then turns torwards where the Lutin came from, pulling out another vial from her belt, and hurls it torwards the trapdoor. It shatters against the stone, and the contents therein quickly splash all over it along with some of the snow before rapidly congealing and hardening, forming a swift and rather tight cover. She glances down one last time at the Lutin, ponders for a bit, shrugs, then turns back torwards the others.

Cover | Contents | Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 |
13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | Epilogue

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